Park Rangers and other National Park Service employees dedicate and at times risk their lives to protect the resources within our parks. Nothing can get up the dander like someone abusing or defacing those resources. It is unbelievable how often people leave their trash spread along road sides, picnic areas, and campgrounds. We often half joked on the Blue Ridge Parkway that you could tell what beer was on sale by the display of cans and bottles along the road on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The National Park Service spends millions of dollars a year picking up and disposing of trash.
The idea that an individual could just toss their trash out the window of a moving car is incomprehensible to the type of person who aspires to be a park ranger. This lack of understanding of motive is compounded exponentially when that littering occurs within a National Park.
A moment that makes any park ranger’s day is when they actually catch a litterer red handed in the act. A park ranger hears some outrageous reactions from these violators.
One night while working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park I backed my patrol car into the entrance of a picnic area on Lee Drive. I was sitting there with my dome light on filling out some paperwork on a violation notice I had issued earlier when I saw a vehicle coming down Lee Drive at a high rate of speed. The vehicle started to slow as it approached and I assumed that they saw my car. As the vehicle passed the driver tossed a half gallon wine bottle out the window striking the front bumper on my car. I immediately pulled out with my emergency lights on and stopped the vehicle. I approached the driver and asked him if he knew why I had stopped him. He said he had no idea why.
I then asked him if he threw a wine bottle from his car.
His answer shocked me, “Yea I did. So what’s the big deal? Someone will pick it up.”
No matter how I tried, I could not convince him that he had done something wrong and that it was a violation of the law to litter. He left with several violation notices, angry for being hassled. I cannot remember if he ever paid his fines.
Through my career I was surprised to find the response I heard that night to be a common theme among litterers. Numerous times I was told by people I witnessed throwing out trash in parks that it was not important because, “Someone will pick it up.” They resented being charged with what they considered no violation of the law.
Just another example of the interesting types of people a park ranger gets to meet during their career.